As many divers know, reefs across the world are struggling. Temperature increases, changes in the water, algae growth, overfishing, and systematic damage from boats and divers are all to blame. To counteract the decline in reef growth, coral nurseries have sprouted up in several spots in the Caribbean, including the Bahamas, Curacao, Bonaire and the Florida Keys. The last three in particular are seeing huge successes and leading the way for other nursery efforts across the world.
What are coral nurseries?
The nurseries, made of PVC and fiberglass “trees,” are anchored in the sand and buoyed to allow free movement. Divers and scientists start the corals on the trees and monitor them regularly. They eventually out-plant the corals to nearby reefs when the fragments are large and strong enough. Staghorn and elkhorn coral, decimated in the Caribbean, are the most common residents of coral nurseries since both species can grow and reproduce through fragmentation. If a branch of coral falls from the reef, it can reattach to a rock or become part of a coral tree. Thusly it can become the foundation of a new colony. Following are three of the most dynamic coral nurseries in the Caribbean.
The Coral Restoration Foundation Curaçao celebrated its one-year anniversary in Curaçao this summer. Starting with just 10 trees in May of 2015, by December the staff and volunteers had out-planted their very first corals in Curacao: five staghorns and two elkhorns. In just the past year, the dedicated caretakers at the Curacao nursery were able to grow 400 corals to over 1,200 corals and double the number of coral trees. One staghorn fragment alone grew from two inches to almost nine feet long. (5 cm to 263 cm).
To celebrate their one-year anniversary, the foundation planted 360 new coral fragments, 10 new coral trees, and alongside their counterparts in Bonaire and Florida, out-planted over 200 corals in a single day.
If you want to help on the project, they have adopt-a-coral and sponsorship programs available, along with a club you can join to both help and get discounts on local diving. It’s not just biologists that work at the nurseries — you can too.
Staghorn and elkhorn corals in Bonaire have been declining since 1980 due to disease, storms, bleaching and algae. The Bonaire Coral Restoration Foundation focuses on staghorn and elkhorn growing efforts to aid in repopulating damaged areas. To date, nearly 9,000 coral fragments are growing in the nurseries and staff and volunteers have transplanted 6,000.
Within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, another nursery is booming. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act awarded partners in the sanctuary $3.3 million. The sanctuary earmarked the money to improve the genetic diversity of local corals, as well as increase the numbers of the threatened species. In 2009, the corals transplanted from the local nursery spawned for the very first time. This signified a full lifecycle success. In 2014, the nursery was at full capacity, with over 8,500 coral fragments and plans for further expansion.